Russia's Foreign Ministry has rejected criticism from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and from Elizabeth Whelan, a sister of the U.S. citizen Paul Whelan who has been arrested in Russia and accused of spying.
A statement issued on the Russian Foreign Ministry's Twitter page on September 14 says claims by the U.S. Embassy and Elizabeth Whelan that Paul Whelan's detention was "unlawful" are "disinformation."
Earlier in the day, the U.S. embassy quoted Elizabeth Whelan as saying "Paul's unlawful and continued detention is quite simply a violation of the fundamental rights on an American citizen."
The U.S. Embassy added in the post, "We agree. Let #PaulWhelan go home."
Elizabeth Whelan also has said that her brother had become "trade fodder in a geopolitical dispute which is not of his making."
The statements come after U.S. lawmakers introduced a resolution calling on the Russian government to provide evidence of Paul Whelan’s crimes or release the former Marine Corps veteran.
The bipartisan group also urged Russia "to provide unrestricted consular access" to Whelan while he remains in detention, according to a copy of the resolution submitted this week.
"Since Paul was detained last December, Russian authorities haven’t come up with any evidence, any charges against him," said U.S. Senator Gary Peters September 12 during a joint press conference on Capitol Hill with the bill's sponsors as well as Whelan's sister Elizabeth Whelan.
The senator said it was "simply unconscionable to be able to pick an American citizen off the street and put him in a prison -- and not a very good prison at that."
Stevens was joined by four other lawmakers from Michigan -- Whelan’s hometown -- and Massachusetts Rep. Bill Keating, a member of the House Committee for Foreign Affairs.
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested Whelan on espionage charges on December 22, 2018, claiming he received classified information.
A Russian court last month extended his detention until October 29.
Whelan, who said he was in Moscow for a friend's wedding, denies the charges and claims they are politically motivated. He has written letters to his congressional representatives asking them to push for his release.
U.S.-Russia relations have deteriorated over the past five years following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and the Kremlin's attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election through hacking and political ads on social media.